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Proverbs 31:21 clothed in double layers

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, October 26, 2019

21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
  for all of them are clothed in double layers. *

Twelfth letter in the Hebrew alphabet: lamed. First word of this verse: lo “not.”

There is a translation question in the second stich (line). The potential fear of snow is met by clothing that is shanim. The problem is that shanim means “red.” The Latin translation has duplicibus “double,” and this matches the Greek manuscripts, although modern editions of the Greek Septuagint seem to have a versification error here, moving the word dissas (δισσάς, “double”) from the end of verse 21 to the beginning of verse 22. The Greek and Latin are translations of the same consonants in Hebrew (shnm) with different vowels: shanaim, “double” or “layered.” This seems to be a more likely answer to snow and the cold weather that brings it than cloth of a certain color. Both the King James Version and the EHV have footnotes or marginal notes to this effect.

The work of the ideal wife and mother is shown here in the verb “clothed.” Modern English doesn’t like passive verbs, but ancient tongues such as the Bible’s three original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) liberally used the passive voice for grammatical emphasis. Here the passive “are clothed” is an important point, because the members of the household are shown to have been dressed by someone else: their mother. She is the one who makes sure that they put on their warm coats or an extra layer when it was cold enough to snow.

Twenty years ago, I was assigned to become a missionary in the Pacific Northwest. My wife and I and our babies traveled to the mountains southeast of Seattle, Washington, and I began the work of reaching out with the gospel door to door (that labor was also the beginning of these daily devotions). We found that many of our neighbors were unprepared for snowy weather, although most people had a warm jacket of some kind. When it snowed there, it snowed just millimeters, never more than an inch or two, but it was so rare (one or two days per year) that school was often called off because there was no equipment to plow roads or streets. My wife grew up in northern Wisconsin, and she always knew exactly where our warmer clothing was. She wrapped up our little boys in warm, snug layers and sent them out to play while our neighbors shivered and wondered how loving parents could let their little ones play outside in “freezing” (+35°) temperatures. The answer? She knows what it is to be outside when it’s -35°, and she made sure our children understood the importance of layering what they wore.

This proverb isn’t just about layers or fashionable colors. It’s about being prepared for what is coming. This has a spiritual side, like the parable Jesus tells in the last six verses of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:24-29). The foolish man there was unprepared for bad weather (the rain, the rising streams, the blowing wind) and his house was not built to withstand those things. But the wise man built his house on a solid foundation: “The rain came down; the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:25). The right foundation for the storms of sin and temptation is Christ, just as the right clothing for the bitter cold of guilt, sin, and shame is to be layered in the righteousness and the forgiveness of Jesus, so that we will not fear even the cold truth of Judgment Day. When that day comes, Jesus Christ the Heavenly King will judge everyone after raising us from the dead. We must stand before him then, and there will be a single point of judgment: Did I have faith in Christ, or did I reject Christ? Mark 16:16 assures us: Only faith saves; only unbelief damns. The heroic wife is certain that her children have been layered in the double-garment of faith in Christ together with the seal of baptism, the washing that brings faith and rinses away the stain of sin. The wife and housemother has done her work; she has trained up her children in the way they should go, so that when they are old they will not turn away from it (Proverbs 22:6). They will be glorified in the judgment, and Christ will call them to his side: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance. The kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34), and they will be brought into heaven for eternal life. The greatest gift a parent can give to a child is not only physical life, but the eternal life that awaits us through the gospel, lovingly taught especially by the mother of the house to her darling children; the greatest work of the heroic wife.

* 31:21 “layers” or “clothed doubly,” according to an alternate reading of the Hebrew vowels (shanaim) and some witnesses. Masoretic Hebrew text has shanim “scarlet.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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